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Aidan Baker, "Liminoid/Lifeforms"

cover imageUnlike previous solo efforts, here Baker is flanked by a concentrated orchestra, propelling his demur drones into consonant and complete compositions. The result is an album of staggering growth as Baker explores the elegant side of drone and the filth of classical percussion and strings that not only established Baker as an innovator but as a inventive curator of drone and its many variants.

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Aidan Baker - Liminoid / Lifeforms

Above all else, Liminoid/Lifeforms is a definitive statement. Baker clearly states his objective with the first few notes of “Liminoid Part I,” never wavering from his desire to capture the elements of classical and romantic composition with modern techniques. The result is an album that is warm; thick with texture and sonic craftsmanship. Albums with this much attention to detail often crumble under the weight of expectation but Baker has nothing to atone for once the final note of “Lifeforms” fades into the abyss.

The greatest accomplishment of Baker’s foray into the classical is in its simplicity. Much like the great masters of composition, Baker is never afraid to do too much by doing too little. Each of the four parts that comprise “Liminoid” joins seamlessly. Not until the soaring vocals of “Liminoid (Part IV)” can we begin to notice how Baker has carefully flirted with the grandiose by indulging it so completely. The subtle hints of cello and violin coupled with the restrained guitars and percussion are slow to reveal themselves as something more than Baker’s usual fare. “Liminoid (Part IV)” becomes the unveiling of Baker’s masterpiece; when the quiet decoration that has been painstakingly built for 22-minutes engulfs the classical philosophy in a fiery pillar of modern ingenuity. In spite of its ambitious nature, the whole of “Liminoid” does not falter for even a single note. This is proof that experimental music can be manipulated using the principles of Romanticism without compromising the chaos theory and fringe accessibility that has found deep roots in various genres.

After the breathtaking beauty of “Liminoid,” Baker risks toppling his opus with the sedentary drone of “Lifeforms.” Yet the risk is well worth it, providing the perfect counterpoint to elegance of “Liminoid” while also proving to be its mirror—albeit of the warped, funhouse variety. Where “Liminoid” was poised and polite, “Lifeforms” is a test of patience and will. It maintains the grace of its segmented lead-in but the restraint of “Liminoid” is replaced with rambunctiousness. “Lifeforms” isn’t abrasive but a piece built on dissonance and misplacement. Its parts, unlike “Liminoid,” are those of worn jigsaw puzzles; connections don’t fit as they should, the tabs are frayed beyond recognition, and there are holes from missing pieces. In this there is a majesty that admirers of “The Ugly Duckling” (and its ilk) will appreciate. “Lifeforms,” when held against “Liminoid,” will seem the tremorring visage; but as a mirror and a companion, it divulges the secrets of success found within “Liminoid,” while annihilating the measuring stick of beauty used for far too long.

The labeling of Liminoid/Lifeforms as a high form of art may be a bit of hyperbole but within Aidan Baker’s classical excursion, there are far too many gems of old and new to call it anything else. Over the course of one hour, Baker builds a sturdy bridge over a crevice that once relied on the likes of John Cage and Terry Riley as its architects. Old world beauty and futuristic tones can work as one, creating music that is as challenging as it is universal.

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Review of the Day

battles, "Tras" & "EP C"
Cold Sweat & Monitor (respectively)
For more than a year, Battles have been making a name for themselves for their live shows, by both supporting major players (like Isis, Lightning Bolt, and Fant?as) and headlining tiny sweatholes. The fourseome hasn't had much trouble packing tight audiences in without having a full-length album out nor having hipster critics gush over them. It's easily the buzz from feverish fans as Battles could be considered the newest supergroup to emerge out of a nameless scene that really doesn't exist. Tyondai Braxton is probably the least known of the crew, but his brilliant 2002 album, History That Has No Effect is embarassingly underlooked, David Konopka has played with Lynx, Ian Williams with Don Caballero and Storm and Stress, and John Stanier has drummed for Tomahawk and Helmet. Together, the sound is diverse, forceful, unavoidable, and their first two EPs are short but strong and soon to become legendary.

"Tras" opens the two-song single. At under four minutes, it's a perfect introduction to the band as it's both rhythmically challenging and catchy as all hell. The precise guitar riffs combined with a TV theme-like keyboard ditty are a perfect fit for drums that are aggressive enough for a metal record, but, as the drums come equipped with a super slick sound and an occasional shuffle, are way too cool to be wasted on brainless hair tossing. "Fantasy" is almost a throwback to the sampled staccato sounds of Ty Braxton's album with echoes reverberating in time with the rhythm. It's boldly almost completely absent of melody yet rich in beats, provided by drum machines, punchy samples, and live percussion. At the eight-minute mark when that 808 kick comes in, any speaker in its path is in trouble.

Together with Tras, EP C could easily form a complete album. The repetition on the opener "B + T" is deceptively simple: it's pretty and layered with different motives, occasional breaks and samples, all which keep the song in perpetual motion. After the short drumless "UW" that could make Kraftwerk blush by its atmospheric twittering, the band comes back in full swing with "Hi/Lo," substituting a low end synth where a bass should be. "Hi/Lo" may be slower than some of their other loud numbers but it's no less grand, building in intensity gradually over the nearly eight minutes, from a small pile of rubble to a mountainous beast. Finishing off the disc are the short "IPT-2" and "Tras 2," each incorporating what seems like a bit of digital fuckery at first, with the second one ending with the drummer trailing off on his own. It's hard to not admit that Battles are flirting with traditionally nerdy instrumental alt-rock/post-whatever styles, and, as a number of groups that each member was in before Battles, they are admittedly crafty. The trick to the craft is making something interesting enough for the band to play and attractive enough for the audiences to enjoy it, and with that, mark my words, Battles are something to watch.

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